By Lance Jenkinson
It is a mere speckle in the rear-view mirror, but 90 minutes of football back in March could help shape the future of Dandenong City in the National Premier League.
City fans will not be rushing to their laptops in their free time to mull over a YouTube replay of their team’s 3-0 loss to Avondale, but coach Sasa Ognenovski certainly has.
Five games were played before the NPL shut down its 2020 season due to Covid-19, with Dandenong City picking up a solitary point, but Ognenovski was not too concerned by his team’s form until that “eye opening” night against Avondale.
On home soil, Dandenong City was run off its feet and beaten in a manner that impressed Ognenovski.
City was made to look slow and tired, while an effervescent Avondale showcased why it has enjoyed a sustained period of time near the top of the ladder.
Since football was shut down, Ognenovski has reflected on that night and just about come to terms with the fact that City’s playing style and personnel needed a refresh.
“In the first three games, we were thereabouts and we had three or four players out that would’ve been in our starting team,” he said.
“We looked at those results and said ‘yeah, there’s still a level of improvement that we’ve got’.
“Then the Avondale game, for me, was the real eye opener.
“They’re a quick, dynamic team, really proactive and always want to go forward.
“They’ve got dynamic boys up front, high pressure and you haven’t got time to dwell on the ball.
“That’s the top team in the competition and have been for the last two or three years and if we’re going to compete with the top half of the ladder then we need to get to a stage where we can match them in that dynamic side of football.”
Ognenovski is aware the Avondale way might not have suited Dandenong City’s class of 2020.
It takes time to implement change and you need the playing personnel to pull it off.
City, at least, has an abundance of time before 2021, as well as a largely fresh canvas to work from.
Ognenovski revealed that up to 10 players would not have returned for City if there was a re-start in 2020, due to work and personal reasons.
That would have left City in a “tricky” spot, prone to relegation, but given the season was cancelled, it now gives Ognenovski a chance to rebuild the team for next season and one that will be better suited to a more dynamic style of game.
“I think the club has come to a point where you need to refresh the list,” he said.
“A few of the boys have been there for a long time and the results haven’t been where they should be.”
Ognenovski will make it a priority this off-season to introduce younger players up to speed with how modern football should be played.
After pouring over hours of footage from matches locally, nationally and internationally during Melbourne’s lockdown, he is set in his vision for how Dandenong City will play its football in 2021.
Understanding the need for experience in certain positions, Ognenovski will not simply throw youngsters into the deep end in a sink-or-swim way, of course.
He will, though, exhaust all avenues in his bid to nourish City’s list with the best young, energetic talent and willing learners from the local region in favour of slow high-priced one-and-done veterans.
“It’s time to bring in some new signings, refresh the list and get the club to where it should be and that’s comfortably in the NPL and building with a heap of talent from the Greater Dandenong area,” Ognenovski said.
“There’s a lot of young talent at Dandy City that I’d like to bring through and they can have that ownership of a club instead of constantly bringing in recruits every year to top up the list.
“I get a lot of joy out of seeing the young talent in there and wanting to improve them and giving them an opportunity.”
Ognenovski will be in dialogue with the Dandenong City board in the coming weeks to discuss his vision.
The 41-year-old former Socceroo understands it can be a “balancing act” for clubs in deciding which route to take when constructing a squad, but is adamant he can make it work.
“I think Australian football in general doesn’t give enough young players an opportunity,” he said.
“The old NSL was a testament to giving young players the opportunity because if you have a look at the golden generation [of Socceroos], all those boys were playing in the NSL from 16, 17, 18, 19 years-of-age.
“You don’t see enough of it in the A-League and you don’t see enough of it in the NPL as well.
“There’s not a lot of teams willing to blood and give young players an opportunity because it’s so cut throat.”
If ratified by the board, Dandenong City could look a whole lot different by the time it takes to the field next season.